By Dr. Yousif Mohammed Sadiq
The 11th September 2001 attacks on the United States were unprecedented in terms of its size, character, clarity and impact. Some compared the attack to Japan's 1941-surprise attack on the United States Navy in Pearl Harbor, an attack that introduced the United States to the Second World War and ultimately led to the United States dropping two nuclear bombson Japan. Following the 11th September 2001 attacks some in the United States were calling on their government to react against the perpetrators even more intensely than the response it had against Japan following their 1941 attack against Pearl Harbor.
In response to the 11th September 2001 attacks, the United States declared they wereacts of war against the United States of America and responded by announcing its 'War on Terror' against those it held responsible. The attacks shook the United States and the wider world thrustinga new international agenda onto the internationalstage.
The attacks and subsequent response of the United States resulted in the creation of an international all-encompassing conflict. It became international as the events involved numerous nations and its effects were felt outside of the United States of America. Moreover, the fallout from the 11th September 2001 attacks spread beyond the parties involved to also impact global politics, economy, culture, and psychologyto an extent not seen in any international crisis or conflict before it.
Hence, this paper aims to analyse the effects of the 11th September 2001 attacks on international politics.
1: The Characteristics of the 11th September 2001 Attacks and its Implications
The attacks of the 11th September 2011 had numerous characteristics that distinguished it from other attacks in modern history, including those carried out in the First and Second World Wars. The most significant of these characteristics were;
1) The 11th September 2001 attacks targeted the mainland of the United States of America resulting in the loss of thousands of United States' citizens and massive economic damage (two trillion US dollars). The attacks were an unparalleled catastrophe for the United States, and its then desire to remain the world's only superpower.
2) The attacks had a deep spiritual and psychological impact as it targeted the United States' reputation as the world’s strongest nation. It is argued that the psychological effect of the 11th September 2001 attacks onthe United States psyche and the way in which it viewed itself was even more profound than the psychological effect it incurred as a result of the USdefeat in Vietnam.
3) The attacks marked the first time that the United States had incurred such human, economic, political and psychological damage as a direct result of an attack on the United States mainland. In contrast, the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941 was thousands of miles away from the United States mainland, and due to the fact that its target was a United States military base, the civilian death toll was far less. As the attacks were a directtargeting of the United States' international strategy and the western way of life as well as an attempt to damage the United States' international reputation and its dominant position internationally the 11th September 2011 attacks marked the collapse of the widespread view that the United States was immune from foreign attack.
4) The perpetrator of the attack was not a state actor that the United States could not easily take revenge on.
5) Even though the attack was profound in size those who carried it out were few and acted without the use of conventional weapons. The attackers were able to utilise non-military tools to inflict more human and material harm than that which could have been achieved through the use of traditional missiles. The events saw the attackers hijack civilian aircraft to fly into sensitive buildings in New York and Washington, a terrorist attack that was unprecedented in modern history.
6) Following the attacks, the United States, as the attacked party, set about establishing a state of emergency and preparing its international allies for a shared response against the perpetrators and the potential fallout.
7) The 11th September 2001 was the moment that the concept of international power collapsed because the attack demonstrated how 19 individuals with minimal funds were able to engulf the most powerful, most prosperous, and most advanced nation on earth in fear and panic unparalleled in its history. It was a demonstration to the world that the most potent global superpowers wasfor the post part powerless against its new enemies.
8) Above all else, the attacks evidenced that there were no foundations to the theory that technology and information could settle international disputes (especially the lower level disputes). The attack demonstrated that while the technological revolution strengthened the foundations of national security, they also created new tools that made penetration of national defenses possible. It is important to remember that the attacks were not launched from foreign soil onto the United States, but instead, they were launched through the utilization of the United States' aviation infrastructure.
9) The attacks directly resulted in a feeling of insecurity by ordinary Americans to an extent never before witnessed in the United States. Polling showed that two-thirds of Americans felt insecure because they believed that terrorists would try to use the same infrastructure to attack the United States again in future.
10) The international and especially the United States based media outlets began a campaign of coverage that spread fear throughout the United States and the international community. The media outlets replayed the footage of the event so many times that they embedded them in the psyche of United States citizens and those of the international community. This insured that the attacks and their significance would not be forgotten. Research has shown that in the first five days that followed the attack the visual media replayed the footage of the planes hitting the buildings in New York on average every two minutes. What is more, it was the same media outlets that played the most significant role in distributing the message of the terrorists to the United States and the western world.
2: The Identity of the Attackers
There are numerous theories on the identity of the 11th September 2001 attackers, and these are:
a) Al-Qaeda carried out the attack under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden. It was not the first time that Al-Qaeda had targeted United States interests internationally as it had previously launched attacks in Somalia in 1991, Riyadh in 1995, Khober in 1996, Kenya - Tanzania in 1999 and Yemen in 2000. This theory was the working theory of the United States intelligence services in the aftermath of the attacks.
b) The attacks were carried out by non-Arab and Non-Islamic entities such as global Zionists, right-wing elements within the United States, or Bosnian Serbs.
c) The attacks were carried out by the United States intelligence service so that they could provide the United States with a justification to implement their international agenda.
d) If Al-Qaeda was indeed responsible for the 11th September 2001 attacks, as seems most likely given that the groups leaders have on some occasions indirectly claimed responsibility for them, then it must be considered that the different wings of the United States government may have had some prior knowledge of the attack. Numerous pieces of information seem to indicate that the United States was in possession of such intelligence. So either the United States couldn't prevent the attacks, or it wasn't able to defend against it. Some information in this regard is listed below.
1) Henry Shelton, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented a strategic report authorised by both Presidents Clinton and Bush (Jr.) before the 11th September 2001 explaining that the United States needed to prepare for a new war in which enemies of the United States would utilise unpredictable methods to attack the United States.
2) Eleanor Hiller, the Chairman of the Congressional Review of the 11th September 2001 Intelligence Failings, found that the US intelligence services had received numerous warnings about the attacks and that some officials did not take hints that terrorists planned to hijack civilian aircraft and slam them into high rise buildings seriously.
3) Richard Clarke, the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism for the United States, explained that the Bush administration did not take the threats from Al-Qaeda seriously. Moreover, he said that even though much intelligence was gathered and presented to the administration regarding the attack and its origins, the Bush administration continued to push for an attack on Iraq, even when the evidence did not point to Iraq as the perpetrator.
4) Condoleezza Rice, the former United States Secretary of State, stood before Congress and explained that one month prior to the attacks the United States President had received an intelligence describing the objectives of the Al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, and the benefits he would reap if he could attack the United States mainland. The report also explained the possibility that Al-Qaeda may try to hijack civilian aircraft and use them to achieve its targets.
5) It also appears as though the United States government was aware that the World Trade Centre in New York could be a target of a possible attack. General Tommy Franks, former Commander of the U.S. Central Command was asked about the current threats facing the United States on the 7th September 2001 (four days before the attacks). In response the general said, the fear of an attack on the World Trade Centres in New York keeps me up at night.
6) At least eleven nations had warned the United States about the potential for an attack.
7) After the attacks, the names of the perpetrators were made public. However, prior to the attacksthese same individuals were able to board aircraft using their official passports and their real names at a time when they were all on the FBI's wanted list.
3: The Effects of the 11th September 2001 Attacks on International Politics
The 11th September 2001 attack was a watershed moment for the post-Cold War international order.It changed many of the dynamics of the international system that had been in place since the collapse of the global socialist block. Fred Halliday explains that the attacks and its consequences were international as the victims of the assault and the perpetrators came from different corners of the world. What is more, the attacks had a long-term impact on the global security situation as well as international religious cultural and ethnic cleavages. Hence, it is essential to identify the immediate consequences of the attack on the international politics. The results were;
a) Defending against terrorism and the Attack on Afghanistan: The fog of the attacks had not yet cleared when then-President George W Bush declared his administration's ‘War on Terror’ by announcing "our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end untilevery terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. [...] Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
The global superpowers were quick in their decision to side with the United States. They passed resolution 1368 via the United Nations Security Council a day after the attacks. The resolution allowed the United States to take any action it deemed necessary to defend itself against the perpetrators of the 11th September attacks as granted for in Article 51 of the United Nations charter.
On the 13th September 2001, for the first time in history, NATO members unanimously agreed to invoke article five of the NATO agreement that obliged all members to come to the defence of another member that was under attack. With this NATO announced that the attack on the United States was indeed an attack on the NATO alliance, and therefore, required appropriate joint action to be taken to defend against the attackers.
What is more, the United Nations Security Council also unanimously agreed, within seven hours on 29th September 2001, on UN Security Council resolution 1373. The decision relied on Article 7 of the United Nations charter.
Therefore after considering the above, it is right to argue that at the beginning of the 21st Century the initial concern of the international communities was to defend against the threat post by global terrorism. To achieve this, the United States felt that it needed to establish an international coalition and that NATO needed to restore its global significance. The United States felt it needed to head and direct this new international coalition. The reasons listed below explain why the world was ripe for such a war and a coalition against terrorism.
1) International terrorism had become so dangerous and widespread that it was no longer in the power of a single state to defend against it.
2) The majority of states around the world, especially the global superpowers, complained about global insecurity. Especially given that many of them maintain interests around the world and that it has become even more difficult for them to secure those interests. This absence of this link between their respective interests and security has encouraged these states to join the United States-led coalition.
3) For states to protect their citizens, following the events of the 11th September 2001, it has become vital for them to tie their national security to global security.
Under these conditions, the United States tried to re-assert international security in a manner that all states were made responsible for the human and material elements required for asserting this authority in their respective corners of the globe. Hence, the United States' 'War on Terror' cannot be defined to a specific geographic area; instead, the United States works to defend against terrorism, and its interests on multiple levels around the globe and these are as follows;
1) Assisting those governments that are taking part in the fight against terrorism.
2) Re-establishing the idea of ‘subjective states’ that with the assistance of the United States could defend its region and prevent any foreign force from establishing its influence in that region.
3) Establishing a grand coalition that could assist, if necessary, in future conflicts that the United States chooses to fights against those nations it deems state sponsors of terrorism.
In the frame of its 'War on Terror,' the United States produces an annual report where it names all of the organisations that it deems to be terrorist organisations and those states it believes to be state sponsors of global terrorism. Those groups or nations mentioned in the report are dealt with in one of the following ways:
1) They are sanctioned, pressured and on occasions invaded militarily. The objective being for the given ‘Rogue’ nation to change its behavior.
2) Attempts are made to end terrorism by bringing terrorist groups and individuals to justice.
3) The United States and its allies do not allow any negotiations with these groups and states, and there can be no agreement between them and the countries in the coalition.
The war in Afghanistan became a practical example of all the principles, tools and mechanisms outlined above. In fighting this war, the United States formed a grand international coalition of the mostpowerful states within the international community (Russia, China, and many of Afghanistan's neighbours among others).
However, the alliance that fought in Afghanistan was different from the coalition that defended Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. In this regard, Donald Rumsfeld, the former United States Secretary of Defense explained that in the 1991 Gulf War nations that took part set individual battle objectives, and provided resources for themselves independently, whereas in Afghanistan these are all organised by the coalition.
In light of this, the relationship between the United States and its coalition partners during the Afghanistan War became defined by the war itself. Hence, the relationship between the United States and its allies became one of dependence than partnership.
It was in this manner that the United States entered the Afghanistan War, where its war aims were to destroy Al-Qaeda's bases in that country and to arrest or kill the organisation's leaders(in particular, Osama Bin Laden and Aiman al- Zawahiri). Moreover, the United States aimed to overthrow the Afghan Taliban government, a government that had offered sanctuary, and training to many anti-American Islamist terrorists.
Along with these aims, the United States also wanted to use this first engagement in the 'War on Terror' to achieve some other broader objectives in the war. The United States government wanted to force the Russia into the coalition (as Russia was also having trouble with Chechen terrorism) so that it could reach some of its regional objectives. When Russia was obliged to assist in the Afghanistan War, the United States was able to fly its aircraft over Russian airspace and to set up military bases in Central Asia. Therefore, the war in Afghanistan also allowed the United States to increase its military presence and influence in Central Asia. Before the 11th September 2001, Russia deemed this region a red line for its national security and would not have accepted the existence of any foreign force of influence within it.
What is more, the United States was able to set up a presence within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, an international alliance that consisted of 8 member states (China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan). For the United States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation presented a new international axis that threatened to thwart the international projects of the United States. Hence, the United States had interests in working to divide these nations. To achieve this, the United States aimed to establish a military presence around the Caspian sea, to be close to the oil and gas fields of the region, to observe China and Russia, to separate India from Russia, to separate Pakistan from China and ultimately to put central Asia under its own influence.
Therefore, the first war in the United States broader campaign on terror allowed it to prevent the formation of a new rival axis in Eurasia. In avoiding such a development, the United States was able to achieve one of the central planks of its international strategic agenda.
This article is one chapter of his Master thesis.